If you own or lease a car and you’ve spent numerous hours at the repair shop trying to find a fix to a chronic problem, it’s likely that you have a lemon on your hands. Under California lemon laws, a car is considered to be a “lemon” if it is new (or used and still under the manufacturer’s warranty), has a defect that impacts the vehicle’s use, value, or safety, and the issue persists even after a reasonable number of repair attempts have been made. Let’s say your vehicle meets these requirements, and you’ve successfully filed and one a California lemon law claim. The manufacturer should offer you a replacement vehicle or refund, and they are obligated to buy back your defective vehicle. Your part of the story may be over—but what happens to the defective vehicle that the manufacturer buys back? The answer may surprise you.
What California Lemon Law Requires
While California lemon laws require those defective vehicles that are bought back by the manufacturer to be “branded” in order to notify future owners about their troubled histories, not all states follow suit. With some of the strongest consumer protection laws in the nation, California mandates that the manufacturer must ensure that the defective vehicle’s title and registration be marked as a “Lemon Law Buyback” before it can be resold to a new owner. Additionally, the vehicle must showcase a decal that reads “Lemon Law Buyback” that is displayed in a prominent location, such as the left door frame. When a potential owner asks about the vehicle, the car’s problematic history and status as a lemon must be disclosed.
Lemon Laws Vary From State to State
California’s strict consumer protections are not in place nationwide. In fact, fewer than one-third of states actually require any type of title branding. In some cases, when a lemon is moved to a state that does not require branding, consumers will have a much harder time learning of the car’s troubled past. Additionally, major title-tracking services, such as Carfax, are fairly vague about lemons. These services rarely (if ever) use the word “lemon,” preferring instead to use gentle and somewhat misleading terms like “manufacturer repurpose.” As a result, many consumers may purchase a defective vehicle without ever fully learning of the car’s history of complications.
Understand Your Consumer Rights
If you are in the market for a used car, don’t automatically assume that the vehicle is problem-free. Do your homework and investigate the vehicle’s past. In California, it may be easier to identify the car as a lemon, but it may be harder to access the vehicle’s history in many cases. Even if you decide to move ahead and purchase the vehicle, be aware that you may find yourself spending more time in the repair shop than on the road. As soon as you smell trouble, reach out to a knowledgeable lemon law attorney who can help you obtain the refund or replacement vehicle you are owed.